Desperate Dan who heads this blog flourished for years in the Dandy comic, produced in Dundee but of world-wide circulation. He is a well-built cowboy who eats gigantic cow pies but he is never guilty of any cruelty or aggression to man woman child or beast. A gentle strongman and good role model, he is a good contrast to American dentist Walter Palmer who killed Cecil a Zimbabwean lion that was friendly towards humans. He shot it with an arrow leaving it dying in pain for over forty hours. The pictures of him and a pal celebrating the kill of another lion show them grinning moronically over a dead beast that was certainly more noble and probably more intelligent than them. I’m sure that genuine hunters will despise this slaughter as much as I do, but it does raise a question about our relationship to the earth and its creatures.
The Christian tradition has been not altogether helpful in this matter. The book of Genesis is anthropocentric in its basic assumption that humanity is superior to animals, albeit responsible for their welfare. The fact of the inter- dependence of human beings and all living things was unknown to the Genesis writer.
Nevertheless, the Genesis account of the garden of Eden envisages some kind of vegetarian diet for the human beings and maybe also for animals. Once human beings are expelled from Eden, they are permitted to eat animals. Indeed there is a hint that death is one of God’s second thoughts, brought in to limit the amount of evil one person can do, but opening the door to killing, which becomes a feature of human life almost immediately. It’s reasonable to say that killing animals for food is permitted by the God of Genesis because human beings are a mixture of good and evil.
The Hebrew bible gives us a prophecy in Isaiah chapter 11 which speaks of a messianic time when all wrongs will be righted and all conflict will cease. Animals that prey upon each other will be reconciled, and all living creatures including humanity will be at peace. This “peaceable Kingdom” is one of the Bible’s most moving visions, but it never became a major part of Jewish or Christian theology.
The Jesus tradition adds little to the Hebrew bible in this regard. Although he says that God is concerned at the death of a sparrow, he goes on to say that the Father is even more concerned about human welfare. The tradition credits him with destroying a herd of pigs in the course of curing a demon- possessed man, so the view that humanity comes first and other creatures a long way back, is if anything reInforced by Jesus.
Classical Christian theology, as for example the writings of Thomas Aquinas, denies that animals have souls or can be any part of God’s salvation. The great figure of St Francis with his love for all creatures may seem to contradict the mainstream theology, but his witness has no lasting effect on Orthodoxy, Catholic or Reformed traditions. We also know that Christianity encountered throughout its history other kinds of religion in which the inter-dependence of all life was asserted, and animals given a more important place, but it rejected all these as primitive and degrading.
It’s not surprising therefore that Christian civilisations have been fairly careless about the welfare of animals, except those they regard as pets. Lack of respect for the lives of other creatures and of the enlightened self-interest that might protect the web of life that supports human life, are so common that to challenge them is considered extreme by most “Christian” societies.
This where we need to ask a theological question: if the Jesus tradition is held to provide everything necessary for salvation, that is for our rescue from evil, and it contains nothing about the welfare of other creatures or our common environment, does that relegate concern for the earth and its creatures to the margins of Christian morality? Or can we judge our tradition and Jesus himself to be deficient in this matter?
Jesus himself and the Jesus tradition have encouraged human beings to see their interdependence with each other, and to learn how to live in “partnership” with each other, across the barriers of terrain, race and culture. It therefore does not seem to me unreasonable to extend this partnership to our fellow creatures. But it would be a very radical change in our thinking and living. Not only that, it would place this theological development amongst the “truths” into which Jesus expected the spirit to lead us, and our comprehensive care for the earth among the “greater things” that Jesus expected us to do.
In this case, Jesus’ “extremism” is not in his teaching but in his clear insistence that his teaching and example would not provide all that his followers needed for their salvation. Now a religious leader who denies that he has the whole truth, is a real extremist who should command our trust.
Such a change would align Christianity with contemporary science which has jettisoned the misunderstanding of evolution as the survival of the fittest and considers that any species that destroys its environment, destroys itself. Biology and the Earth Sciences emphasise the myriad interconnections of all living things with each other and with the planet.
As for Mr. Palmer and those who share his pleasure in killing, we should explain to them patiently as to idiots, that we cannot let them kill our animals, but that we could give them a decent reservation, maybe in Syria, or North Korea, where they can hunt and kill each other, to their hearts content.